Winner of the prestigious Palme d’Or at The 2018 Cannes Film Festival, Hirokazu Kore-eda‘s heartbreaking tale of mistaken identity questions the role (and importance) of family, as discussed in Kore-eda’s previous film Like Father, Like Son (2013). Kore-eda attempts to look beyond the blood ties that bind one another together, looking at the dysfunctional ‘family’ made up of non-biological outcasts in a fragmented society. In the Tokyo suburbs, the Shibata ‘family’ struggle to get by on part-time wages, so they learn the tricks of the trade as petty thieves in the local convenience stores and supermarkets under the noses of unsuspecting citizens. Headed by ‘patriarch’ Osamu (Lily Franky) a part-time construction worker and his adoptive ‘son’ Shota (Kairi Jo), they feast out on gluten cake, rice and hot croquettes in their overcrowded bungalow full of boxes, mattresses and artefacts.
5 year old Yuri (Miyu Sasaki) is the local street urchin, neglected by her birth parents. Foraging for food on a ramshackle fire escape in their local neighbourhood, she is rescued by Osamu and his partner, laundry worker Nobuyo (Sakura Ando) who take pity on her. It takes two months for the authorities to become aware of her disappearance. Nobuyo tries to comfort Yuri, who is cruelly shunned by her birth mother and Nobuyo attempts to make the tragic situation better by comparing their matching scars to emphasise their new and special bond. The Shibata family manage to escape to the beach, and for a moment they are happy and carefree (away from the bleak reality of poverty and their struggle to stay one step ahead with the authorities). Older daughter Aki (Mayu Matsuoka) joins them on holiday, getting some respite away from her night time shifts in the red light district, where she simulates sex in front of a two way mirror for lonely clientele, whilst her shrewd elderly grandmother (Kirin Kiwi) indulges in her addiction to slot machines.
But their life together as a family unit is ultimately doomed to end in heartbreak, when Shota has enough of his life as a pickpocket, becoming increasingly jealous of Yuri’s growing popularity as the cute, newly ‘adopted’ child. Deliberately messing up a robbery, he is apprehended by the authorities after injuring himself escaping over a bridge, which leads the police to probe the hidden past of his ‘parents’. With Nobuyo contemplating life in jail, the children are questioned by social services, with Shota taking the lonely bus journey home for a reunion (of sorts) with his birth parents. Yuri is left alone to gaze forlornly over a child’s playpen – where she faces an uncertain future under the gaze of social services.
Kore-eada is an excellent storyteller, and it is a testament to his skill as a filmmaker that one wants to see these damaged individuals, who are marginalised within society, to be given a second chance. He carefully puts all the pieces of the jigsaw together to form a moving social commentary of life on the streets.
Lynsey Ford | [rating=5]
Crime, Drama | Japan, 2018 |15 | 23rd November 2018 (UK) | Subtitles | Thunderbird Releasing | Dir.Hirokazu Koreeda | Kirin Kiki, Lily Franky, Moemi Katayama, Mayu Matsuoka,